Danny Carlson is the founder of the “Kenji ROI” agency that does Amazon Listing Optimization & PPC Management for Amazon sellers. They have ten employees, and they work with brands who are just launching, as well as those selling millions of dollars per year.
In this interview, we discussed listing optimization, PPC advertising, and what it takes to make your Amazon listing stand out.
- Amazon is a comparison shopping platform; your product listing has, on average, 27 other products that Amazon is trying to show to customers.
- If you’re selling products in America, you want to have American models and Canadian models using the products because that’s who’s going to be buying it.
- The brand registry gives a lot of opportunities for an Amazon business, such as an increased conversion rate due to A+ (Enhance Branded) Content. In the case of business sale, you’ll be able to sell your business for more – and protect yourself legally. You can apply for a brand registry on Seller Central. It costs money and time, but treat it as an investment: it’s worth it.
- One of the biggest mistakes people make on Amazon PPC is over-optimizing. Instead of tweaking your ads every day, make weekly changes – that way, you’ll have more reliable data.
- It can take up to 2 months for Amazon Ad Console to start trusting your account and your new product. Striving to break even on your ads is a great goal to aim for, treat your ad spend as an investment in your organic ranking.
- If you’re not sure where to start with your listing optimization, focus on the image. That’s the first and most important improvement you can make. Your pictures should feature models using your product, they should be mobile-friendly, and they should show your product from different angles.
When an average Amazon seller asks you what your business does, how do you respond?
In the most basic terms, we help sellers increase their conversion rates and Amazon sales through listing optimization and Amazon Pay Per Click management. Listing optimization is full service; we produce everything for our clients. That’s photography videos, A+ content, descriptions (also known as ABC), and obviously, the writing on the page optimized for Amazon SEO.
Why is it essential to optimize your listings?
The text is super important. If you don’t have the right keywords in your listing, title, and description, Amazon’s algorithm is going to have no idea what your product is.
You can put it in your product category, but that’s not specific enough. You can’t have a successful ranking if you don’t have the right keywords in there. And you can’t convert to a sale if your images are not good.
If you have just one image and it’s kind of blurry, it doesn’t show your product very well; then, it’s not going to be very attractive for a customer to purchase that product. And Amazon is a comparison shopping platform; your product listing has, on average, 27 other products that Amazon is trying to show to customers, and those might be better products for the customers. So if your photos aren’t beautiful, it’s very easy for a customer to find a better product they’re going to purchase.
Is the general strategy behind Amazon listing optimization the same for products as it is for Kindle books?
There is a lot more that has to go into the product listing. On a Kindle book, all you have is your cover on there. And that’s pretty much all you can optimize for pictures, and just having a really good book and pushing good marketing behind it. Kindle publishing is a different game than Amazon FBA. It operates on the same platform and off the same principles, but it’s just a very different game with a different set of rules.
What else goes into Amazon listing optimization?
The text and the keywords are kind step one. Step number two is all the product images, and having a good mix of different product images that show off the product in a good way. Those are the only essential pieces of the Amazon listing optimization. Everything else is a bonus that is going to increase your conversion rates (the percentage of customers that actually will purchase your product of those that viewed your product).
Video is another piece: if you have Brand Registry, you can get a video in one of your image slots at the very top of your listing. And if it’s a good video, then we usually see a really good conversion rate increase from that.
The other piece is the A+ content description. Other people might have heard this is called “Enhanced Brand Content,” but a year ago, Amazon merged A+ content into enhanced brand content. It’s a fancy description halfway down the listing that you can have images and text instead of just a block of text. It’s very easy to scroll over and a good chance to make it look like your website and visually show your product in a really attractive way. People who don’t have Brand Registry will not have this opportunity, so this usually sees a really good conversion rate bump as well.
How do you become eligible for A+ content?
You can apply through Seller Central quite easily, and it’s going to send you to the Brand Registry page. To get the Brand Registry, you do need a registered word trademark on your exact brand name that you’re selling those products for.
So that’s the biggest obstacle – it takes some money and, more importantly, time. It can take up to a year to go through the brand registration process. But if you’re selling a business and you are selling real products that you want to build a real brand around, you probably want to trademark anyways. It’s worth it.
Even if there were no Brand Registry benefits, it would be worth to trademark your business anyways. You’re going to see that the ability to do everything that Brand Registry includes is worth the investment for trademark.
Right, and if you want to sell your business in the future, it will be worth more if the brand is registered. What makes your agency’s approach unique compared to some other agencies in the FBA space?
Few agencies focus exclusively on Amazon listing optimization. There are plenty of agencies that just kind of tacked it on as a side service that they do for some of their clients. A lot of them are hiring freelancers every time they get one of these contracts.
We are known for Amazon listing optimization as our main service. And we also have everything under one umbrella. The main benefit of going with us is that you don’t have to work with 3 or 4 different companies or contractors. To get everything done on a listing, you need video editors, graphic designers, product photographers, even within product photography, sometimes need a studio photographer and a lifestyle photographer, and need to hire a model to have everything you need. There are just so many different team members you need to go into that. Our biggest differentiator is having everything under one roof – and that we focus mainly on Amazon listing optimization.
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Do you have an office, or are you completely decentralized as a team?
Our main office is in Vancouver, as well as all the photo team and video. All the video models, and everything like that is located in Vancouver, so we have real Canadian models using the products. We consider setting up an office in China or, you know, somewhere overseas to cut down costs.
If you’re selling products in America, you want to have American models and Canadian models using the products because that’s who’s going to be buying it. It seems weird if there’s like, only Chinese people renting your products, it just seems kind of odd. But I live in Bali, as well as our operations manager, Phil, he’s a British guy who just really likes surfing. And we live out in Bali together. And then there’s like graphic designers and things like that, that work with us in the Philippines. So we are a little bit decentralized.
PPC management can be a bit technical, but it’s not exactly rocket science. Yet, so many sellers mismanage their ads and waste money. Why do you think that is?
One of the biggest mistakes people make is over-optimizing. A beginner amazon seller, typically they will be in there every day, just making some kind of tweaks, looking at the data and building up and down, when, in reality, what they’re doing is creating a mess. They can never track [that way] what’s working and what’s not working. You’re optimizing stuff every single day and changing bits every day.
If you do major changes every week, you can easily track it. You’re like, “OK, so we are above our ACoS this week, and we lowered the budget by 30%”. And then next week we came back, and ACoS went down, or next week we came back, and our sales just dropped way down, and we’re not getting impressions for that keyword – so we need to move it back up.
This way, you have good data to make good decisions. And even though Amazon is a relatively simple platform compared to Google ads, or Facebook ads, the complexity grows a lot the more products that you get in there. For example, at Kenji ROI, we start every product with nine campaigns for automatic campaigns and five manual campaigns of different types. And the number of campaigns grows as we go along with optimization. And if you scale that out to you know, 5, 10, 15, 25, or more products, that becomes a monumental task to do bid management and keep track of keywords that are not working, add negative keywords, etc.
It just becomes a monumental thing to keep track of and make sure that you’re not wasting that ad spend. It’s something that can be managed with some very basic rules, but a lot of times, those basic rules are not going to work for certain types of products, and they’ll need something a little more advanced. Or maybe you just even need to be OK with losing some money in PPC for your category. It varies product by product.
If I am creating my first PPC campaign, what should my goal be? Should I strive to break even, or be OK with losses and treat my ad spend as an investment to build sales history?
In my opinion, up to breakeven is completely a good goal to shoot for. Even in the beginning, for the first month or two, I’m OK with losing a little bit of money on the ads. That’s what I would recommend to our clients. Some of our clients tell us they need to be more profitable or they have lower profit margins, so we have to work with that. But I am of the methodology that it’s an investment to form organic ranking for your products.
If you are driving sales up to breakeven, that’s just free extra ranking for your product that will bring more organic sales or keep your ranking for your most important keywords. And if you can get it to the point of profitability, and then slowly over time, just scale that down and maybe make it profitable – that should be the goal of Amazon advertising. So I prioritize for sure sales and volume, building a sales history like you’re mentioning. And then I look for cheap ways to bring down the ad spend without lowering the overall amount of sales.
Are there brands that do no advertising at all?
There are plenty of them. Sometimes Amazon advertising just doesn’t make sense for certain products and certain categories. [They might have] a very low conversion rate, and a very high cost per acquisition. And it’s just not going to be anywhere close to profitable. Sometimes we only do 30% of the products.
But then how does a business define whether they should be investing in PPC or not to begin with?
It’s something that we need to test. To be honest, I never really know which products [will need PPC or not.] Most often, they are products whose related keywords are too heavily related to another high volume item that just dominates all the keywords search for that item.
So like any related keywords, you’re going to bid on that amount of good volume and just going to be super competitive. The customers who are clicking or searching for that are not going to want to click your product as they’re looking for something else usually. And then all you’re left is these “long tail” keywords that have low search volume. And so that’s good like organically that can bring in that can trickle in a good amount of sales. But as far as PPC goes, it’s just not going to work properly at any scale.
Let’s say that I am a seller who hasn’t been paying much attention to their listings. I just wrote up some copy and left it there. What are some of the low-hanging fruit improvements I can make easily?
The easiest low hanging fruit is optimizing your main image. Your main image is fairly easy to optimize, but it has the biggest effect on your click-through rates. The percentage of people that will click through from the search results or a competitor’s page or sponsored products ad to your listing – it is this one image that people see, and they get to judge your product by it.
Let’s think about this on a search results page. People are looking at a small amount of information: they’re looking at your main image, they’re looking at your title, they’re looking at the reviews and the price. That’s what they have access to. So what I recommend doing is getting a professional studio photographer to take at least three or four different angles of every main image. If you have multiple pieces of your image, let’s say you have a product box, and you have one small accessory, and a second small accessory, and then the main product. Get your product photographer to take a picture of all of them separately from a similar angle and then all of them separately from another angle, and then place them together in Photoshop later on.
This is way more control over layout; you can layer them in front of and behind each other.
I don’t recommend doing a top-down view, because that’s two dimensional and doesn’t look as good or attractive. And you can’t make the items as large, three dimensional for about a 15-degree angle allows you to layer things in front and behind each other, making things bigger and making things more attractive generally.
But the reason you want to do all the items separately is that you can rearrange them in seven different ways and test to see which one’s going to do better. If you take them all in one image, just spend all the time arranging it, and then take one photo, you can’t rearrange anything.
That’s just a really quick, easy way to create many different variations of your main image and then split test them against each other using software like Splitly and see which one gets the best click-through rate.
It seems that photography is extremely important. Where do sellers find professional photographers for hire? Should they use sites like Fiverr?
Fiverr is probably not the best place. It’s usually for more digital jobs. Use Craigslist, or Kenji ROI. We have an office in Vancouver so clients often ship their products from China or the United States up to us to go shoot there. Other than that, there are Facebook groups. So we commonly will post in like the Vancouver photographers and models Facebook group to find models for photo-shoot. There’s probably a Facebook group for your local city as long as you don’t live in the middle of the countryside. And photographers are always looking for photo gigs.
Just make sure specifically that the photographer you’re working with is a product photographer. There is a massive abundance of photographers that like to shoot models or do lifestyle kind of photos just for fun. There are millions of those, but there’s not that many that do product photography, and it is a very specific skill.
At Kenji ROI we’ve tried working with a lot of different photographers, and we just found that if they don’t know how to do product photography, they can be good at other photos in their portfolio that may look great. Still, they just don’t know how to do studio lighting for products, right. Very different skill set.
Just to wrap up our discussion on PPC and listings, is Amazon advertising similar to Google Ads and other platforms, or does it operate by a completely different set of rules?
They operate on a very different set of rules. And the platforms themselves are vastly different. I mean, Google and Amazon are more similar than Facebook and Amazon because Google and Amazon are both search-based platforms. Facebook is an interruption-based platform where you’re scrolling on Facebook, and an ad shows up while you’re trying to do something else.
Whereas Google and Amazon are, I’m putting this ad in front of someone who’s searching for the thing that I’m bidding on. In that sense, there are a lot of similarities. Often people who are good at Google ads can transfer that knowledge and skills over to Amazon. But the platforms operate very differently.
You’re not going to be using many of the same strategies across both platforms. And unlike Google ads, the Amazon ads take a little bit more time to get the algorithm warmed up to your keywords. Even if you’re a master at Amazon ads, it’s very unlikely you can come in and, in the very first week, have some great results. Some of the campaigns are going to get no impressions for a while until Amazon trusts your account and your campaigns a little bit more. This takes a little more time for the algorithm to figure out what’s going on with your product and get things moving.
How long should a seller wait until Amazon starts trusting their account?
The first two months are going to be a wild card. Sometimes everything will be figured out pretty good within a week or two, and that’s it. The campaign seems to be working and Amazon knows where your product is and your campaigns are getting impressions. But sometimes it takes up to two months. It’s a little bit of a wild card.
In blogs, the headline/subtitle/image mix is super important. What three things attribute to a listing success?
The first one is keyword optimization; we touched on that and why it’s important. You need to be able to show up in front of the right keyword searches that customers are searching for to find your product.
Number two is key info optimization. This means identifying the most important pieces of information a customer needs to know or see about your product to make a buying decision. An example of that would be Bluetooth. Let’s say that a brand new version of Bluetooth comes out that is superior to the regular version of Bluetooth; then, customers are going to be scanning for, let’s call it “Bluetooth X.”
And if you don’t have Bluetooth x, in a very visible part of the first little bit of your title, maybe especially the first couple images or bullet points and stuff like that, then the customer is probably going to click onto someone else’s listing that has made that information or easily accessible, more easily consumable.
So identify what the most important information is and then optimize your listing to have it easily communicated to the customer.
And step number three is persuasive desire optimization. That’s a mixture of persuasive sales copywriting, within the product description, and using images and videos and the like to create that desire. This all comes down to sales, copywriting psychology, and the psychology of how you create that desire in your customers through persuasive writing and really convincing images.
Usually, what works best for images is using models in real lifestyle images. Using your product in the way it’s meant to be used and showing the main benefits of the product, in action. Not a model holding your product next to their face and staring at the camera. By having the model using the product, in that exact moment, you’re receiving the main benefit of your product.
And what mistakes do you see sellers make over and over in these 3 points?
One of the most common mistakes I see is in images – making the text too small. We always recommend having at least two graphic images with text on them. We include two in our most popular photo package, and most people have the text very difficult to read on a small mobile screen. Even on a desktop screen, the image is only going to show up until maybe four inches on a laptop screen unless you click to zoom in even further.
So needed to be big enough, which means that the text needs to be pretty concise. It’s difficult to have a short, concise, bullet-point form text on your images because it just takes a long time to craft that into a clear and concise communication.
This comes back to number two key info optimization, and how can I communicate that super effectively to the customer. So don’t have too much text on any photos. Make sure that text is large and easily readable on a mobile screen without customers having to pinch and zoom into that text.
In what categories on Amazon do people use mobile devices more often?
It depends on the category. Over the past couple of years, mobile has been on the rise, for sure. And you can tell that Amazon is paying attention to which categories are more commonly shopped on mobile, by how they optimize the image thumbnails. So you’ll notice, for example, in the phone accessories category, all the image thumbnails are the size of a mobile screen, they’re vertical, instead of square. In most categories, the image thumbnails are square.
So you want to optimize them to be square, but if you’re selling mobile accessories, you want to optimize them to be vertical. Amazon is seen that most people are shopping for mobile accessories on their mobile phones. So that is something to watch out for. Just if you notice that your product category is like that, then you do want to change the sizing of your images.
At what point should a seller outsource their PPC and listing optimization to a company like yours? Is it a function of revenue/products/something else?
It depends on the situation of the seller, to be honest. So a lot of the smaller sellers are bootstrapped, they don’t have a lot of cash, they have more time than they have money, then it doesn’t make sense to work with a company like ours. They have a lot of time, and they can learn the skills and they can go and spend the time to craft it themselves, then that’s great, but they’re able to usually work with us, even if they’re very startup sellers.
We work with sellers who haven’t launched their first product yet, but they’ve done well with some of their job or some of their venture and money and what they are short on time.
And it’s not only the time of actually doing their photos or writing, the listing and everything like that. It’s also the time of learning the best practices and learning how to do it properly, and then actually going and doing it.
A lot of people just don’t have the confidence to go do it properly themselves. But the biggest subset of people that we work with are sellers who already are established on Amazon, or they have a fairly large revenue off of Amazon and are then wanting to get onto the Amazon Marketplace.
What are some of the tools that can help sellers improve their listings?
I am a big fan of the Helium10 suite of tools, they’ve got a whole bunch of different ones for helping your listing and also keyword optimization and keyword research. I think the Cerebro tool is really useful for doing keyword research. And their Scribbles tool is really useful for writing the listing.
Another good keyword tool is almost completely free, called found.co.uk, and it’s good for keyword concatenation for PPC campaigns. It’s really simple; all it’s going to do is you can set up like three, four, or five different columns. And you can split up a long tail keyword byword in all the different columns. And then underneath each one of those words, you just write variants of that word. The software will just combine every possible variant of those words, so that way, you can come up with thousands and thousands of keyword variants of the most popular keywords.
So the way to pick up on those golden nugget long-tail keywords that a lot of your competitors are not bidding on Amazon PPC is to do something like that, a keyword concatenation would be kind of the digital marketing term for that.
I want to finish up with Peter Thiel’s question: what is your contrarian view that goes against the commonly accepted notions in the industry?
There is one that I’ve been talking about recently: almost everyone in the Amazon space is just saying you need to diversify off of Amazon, and you need to build a Shopify store and go diversify to Walmart, and all these other places. I don’t think that’s right for everyone.
I think for a specific subset of brands and people that makes sense if you have the skill set of running Facebook ads and driving converting traffic, then makes sense for you, and you should do it. If you have no idea how to run profitable Facebook ads for e-commerce products, then do not underestimate that you are starting a second business by setting up a Shopify store and trying to drive profitable Facebook traffic.
Figuring out how to drive profitable traffic on Facebook for your products is a whole other ballgame. I’ve seen a lot of Amazon sellers get screwed by just following the Guru’s advice and spending thousands of dollars on Facebook ads, sometimes five grand, ten grand and being incredibly unprofitable.
So while [diversifying off of Amazon] sounds right, it’s not always right for especially not for beginner sellers that don’t have a digital marketing background.
Where can people learn more about you and your business?
I have two podcasts. The first one, which listeners of this podcast will be interested in, would be Actualized Freedom Podcast – that one’s all about Amazon FBA. We’ve had more than 70 episodes with Amanda Codes, Kevin King, a lot of really interesting, unique people that have not been on other Amazon FBA podcasts too. It’s mostly an interview-based podcast with people who have figured out some interesting marketing strategy or if some unique angle when it comes to Amazon FBA. That one’s a little bit more advanced than your typical Amazon beginner podcast.
And for people who are more interested in building agencies or, you know, just lifestyle optimization, mindset optimization, you can find the Danny Carlson podcast. That one is a newer project of mine I do mostly for fun. And also just talking, talking with other entrepreneurs that I just find personally inspiring. It’s kind of my excuse to meet the people that I want to meet in the entrepreneurial community.
And if you’re interested in the agency, any of the listing optimizations or pay-per-click management services, you can just reach out to the team at KenjiROI.com Phil will make see what kind of holes you’ve got, what’s wrong with the current listings, and if you could benefit from our services, then we’ll let you know. If you could not, then we will also let you know – we like to be very transparent and honest at that.
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